Duke Health study says calorie cutting also cuts health risks

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While it's not always easy to cut your calories every day at first, researchers say people in the study adapted over time and eventually needed fewer calories to feel full.

Researchers at Duke University had 218 dedicated study participants reduce their daily calories by a quarter - though that proved unsustainable for some - for two years.

"There's no other drug that can achieve these reductions across all conventional cardiometabolic risk factors that we did, through a marginal reduction in calorie intake while providing all the essential vitamins and minerals with food".

Kraus and colleagues also noted some other significant benefits after two years of a calorie-restricted diet, including an improvement in fasting insulin (-1.71 μIU/mL), fasting glucose (-0.05 mg/dL), C-reactive protein (-0.068 nmol/L), and insulin sensitivity (+0.099).

"The problem of this approach is that many age-associated chronic diseases - including cardiovascular disease - begin early in life and progress over decades of unhealthy diet and lifestyles, which trigger a wide range of physiologic, metabolic and molecular alterations deeply influencing the initiation, progression and prognosis of a multiple medical conditions".

Health effects have been linked to things such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer and dementia.

"These findings suggest the potential for a substantial advantage for cardiovascular health of practicing moderate calorie restriction in young and middle-aged healthy individuals, and they offer promise for pronounced long-term population health benefits", the authors wrote. In the ad libitum control group, the mean reduction in calorie intake was 0.8% and individuals had a mean weight gain of 0.1 kg.

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During the initial 6 months on the diet, the group averaged a 19.5% decrease in energy intake - accounting for about 480 kcal less per day - which later dropped to an average of 9.1% fewer calories after six months.

Though they can't say why, the study authors think there's something about even a little calorie restriction - like skipping dessert - that's good for us, even if we're not overweight.

"It would be interesting to see what happens to the contestants in this study two years after the study ended, if they sustain these habits or not", said Dr. Subbarao Myla, director of Cardiac Cath Labs at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California, who was not involved in the study.

After baseline testing, nearly 150 participants were for a month put on a regimented diet that reduced their normal calorie intake by 25%, while the rest acted as a control group. "All diet plans emphasize portion control at two levels - what you put on the plate and how much of that you consume", he said. Additionally, the study did not include clinical measurements of atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in arteries, in the adults. "Weight loss is best supplemented and sustained by increasing activity".

He added that calorie counting alone is "unlikely to curb the global obesity epidemic".

Among the diet strategies being explored to side-step these effects is calorie restrictive eating.

Dr. Frank Hu a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, called the study "groundbreaking in several respects", but remained cautious.

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